The Great Serai

An historic merchant family's home in old Kabul

By Turquoise Mountain

Kabul, Afghanistan

Patayi Screens (2017) by Turquoise MountainTurquoise Mountain

The Great Serai

The Great Serai is an outstanding example of a traditional Kabuli residence located in Murad Khani, the only surviving contiguous historic quarter in Kabul. Traces of original ornamental plasterwork reveal that construction of this complex began in the late 19th century with phased expansion occurring into the early decades of the 20th century.

Meeting room (2017) by Turquoise MountainTurquoise Mountain

History

First constructed as a home for a wealthy merchant and his family, over time the serai has been adapted to several different uses. It is known that the rooms surrounding the smallest courtyard were at one time the site of Kabul’s first secular school. Then in the latter part of the 20th century, the building’s labyrinthine interior provided shelter for the fighters on the front line during the years of the civil war.

The Great Serai before restoration (2007) by Turquoise MountainTurquoise Mountain

Years of Neglect

More recently, the increasingly degraded structure found use as a commercial warehouse and temporary accommodation for traders. Throughout a long period of instability in Afghanistan, warfare, neglect, and looting left a legacy of significant damage to the structure and fabric of the building.

The Great Serai before and after restoration work in 2007 vs 2017 (2017) by Turquoise MountainTurquoise Mountain

The Great Serai before restoration (2007) by Turquoise MountainTurquoise Mountain

The Great Serai after restoration (2017) by Turquoise MountainTurquoise Mountain

The Great Serai after restoration (2014) by Turquoise MountainTurquoise Mountain

The Structure

The Great Serai is inward-looking in form and layout. It is constructed so as to increase privacy for the family unit, to ensure seclusion from the public realm, to enhance security for the occupants and to moderate the harsh summer and winter climate of the region.

The Alokozay Hall courtyard (2017) by Turquoise MountainTurquoise Mountain

New Uses

The latest phase of the Great Serai is its incarnation as the Turquoise Mountain Institute for Afghan Arts and Architecture. The Great Serai extension and courtyard were added to increase and improve the Great Serai's capacity as a vocational training centre.

The Alokozay main hall (2017) by Turquoise MountainTurquoise Mountain

A central space is the Alokozay Hall where staff, students and visitors gather for assemblies, presentations, and a communal lunch everyday. It is a great example of traditional building techniques used in a contemporary setting.

Bride Room (2018) by Turquoise MountainTurquoise Mountain

Historic and Cultural Value 

Built using locally available timber, earth, and stone, the Serai expresses a material modesty that is entirely appropriate to its domestic function and the character of the neighbouring properties. However, with an internal area of approximately 1500 square metres, the structure’s size and the quality of the original ornamentation - not to mention the extravagant inclusion of two hammam wash rooms - convey a grandeur and aspiration beyond the means of most surrounding householders. In light of this, the Great Serai can be considered as historically and culturally valuable, not only to the residents of Murad Khani, but also within the register of Afghanistan’s remaining built heritage.

The Bride Room's mirrors (2017) by Turquoise MountainTurquoise Mountain

Bride Room plasterwork details (2018) by Turquoise MountainTurquoise Mountain

Bride Room plasterwork details (2018) by Turquoise MountainTurquoise Mountain

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
The Charities of The Prince of Wales
Explore stories from King Charles III's life and his work supporting heritage and the arts.
View theme
Google apps